Saturday, October 30, 2010

Still more notes

The conflation of reason and emotion is exactly the kind of writing literature ought to be engaged in, whatever slippery pronoun you desire to append it with. Tension, anger, conflict, a war between impulses that are global in scope but local in context. The goal isn't a resolution of conflict, as that would be mere preaching and the extension of convenient dogmas; what's more interesting and likely closer to the cold shiver of recognition is in how things end. Being neither philosophy, nor science of any stripe, fiction is perfectly suited for writers to mix and match their tones, their attitudes, their angles of attack on a narrative schema in order to pursue as broad, or as narrow, as maximal or minimal a story they think needs to be accomplished. The attack on modernism's arrogance that it was the light to the "real" beneath the fabrications that compose our cosmology, is grossly overstated, it seems, vastly over regarded: Pound, Eliot, Joyce, and Stein, arguably literary modernism's Gang-Of-Four, did not, I think, tell us in any specified terms exactly what that true reality was, or what it was supposed to be, but only that the by dicing up, challenging, making it strange and making it new could we challenge ourselves, as artists, and as readers that new perceptions and new ideas about the nature of the world could be had. Individually, each writer had a different idea of heaven that they wanted the world to become--Pound was ultimately a befuddled, albeit fascist sympathizer, and Eliot became a conservative Royalist (and their anti-Semitism is problematic for anyone looking for real-time heroes)-- but so far as the principal thrust of their work, which was away from the straightjacket of accumulated literary history and toward something new and different that renewed the possibility of art to engage the times in an aesthetically relevant manner, is scarcely diminished in power merely because it came before.

I agree with Fred Jamieson on the point that Postmodernism, in effect, is a restating of the modernist project., although I suspect the critic was as much interested in preserving his own relevance as a critic as he was in establishing new distinctions to a topic that has, if nothing else, perfected the practice of topic drift. His implication is that postmodernism is critical of the culture it ironically reflects; this stance would keep Jamieson, a dutifully abstruse  Cultural Marxist variant, in things to writing about. Or write toward, as the good critic's style is to introduce things he intends to address and then to defer, endlessly it seems, until some clarity is brought, by him, to the terms and context of his impending discussion. He is, it may be said, the image of the lecturer who assumes the podium without his notes organized, assuming he has noted in the first place. Jamieson, in fact, is something of an ironic example of postmodernism less as a stylish choice or determined practice than as result of trying to wear too many hats; it is more important to act as though you have a point than to actually have one to begin with. Jamieson has his insights and critical genius, of course, but too often it takes a good while for him to warm up to his actual set of talking points. Writing is an argument so far that the central impulse to write at all is to make a series of statements about oneself and one's experiences in the world and reach a satisfying conclusion, some "meaning" at the end of the chat.Roland Barthes noted that the effort to achieve fixed meaning is doomed, as experience is not a static event, but a fluid movement through time that a writer's perception of changes moment to moment, text to text. The argument is thus not one-sided, but multi-vocal and relentlessly complex, although that complexity is the layering of endless snippets of conversation, debates and discourses that challenge, contradict  or ignore the tropes of the chatter that coincide with them, simple ideas, cliches and tropes that are given an unintended complication and ironic juxtaposition by simply having all  the talk occur at   once, like a room full of radios blaring loudly, tuned to different stations with an infinite amount of clarity. These are interwoven within perceptions that argue amongst themselves on their pages, in the extension of characters, plot, instances, local, active bits of imagining where the goal, is finally to attempt to resolve contradiction, arrive at something absolute in a universe that seems to permanently withhold its Absolute Meanings during this lifetime, and to achieve, somehow, some peace, some satisfaction. But no: the argument persists, the imagination soars, the old certainties cannot contain either the unset of new perceptions nor can sooth a writer's innate restlessness. In literature, the conflation continues, reason and emotion color each other, the eyes shut, hoping for vision, a clear path, but the writing continues, the sorting through of experience continues, the unease continues, the world changes radically and not at all.  The postmodernism's overall mission is to notify us of the limitations of our tropes, our schemes, and our rhetoricized absolutes seems redundant to what literature already does.


  1. Why not let these modernist icons finally be retired to the glue farm? What they made “strange” and “new “is now old stodgy stuff indeed. The slicing and dicing that Pound, Eliot, Stein, etc. performed upon narrative has led to the banality of the fragmented rock video and the choose-your-own-reality laziness of the computer game. Who exactly TODAY are they challenging? Modernism’s chief value was as a foil to the Old Guard of 100 years ago – somebody needed to toss William Dean Howell out of his overstuffed chair. When the Old Guard faded away, Modernism lost its edge and its ability to be revelatory. Western culture discovered its own fragmentary nature several generations ago; we don’t need to learn that lesson again and again. Modernism’s shelf life as a catalyst has expired and what we have left are the quirks and prejudices of a bunch of reactionaries. Pound and Eliot are curiosities and sometimes impressive literary technicians, but as bracing cultural tonics in our present century, they are flat soda pop. Disgaree?

  2. Pound is a traitorous, spunk stained groin polisher who had at least two ideas that have traveled well through the decades. He is other wise a ball of congealed grease, dust and hair you pull out of your brush, an utterly unuseable poet. Pound was a bad writer besides. Reading him is like taking a bullet in the bidness.

    Eliot, however, was a terrific poet quite apart from his grouchy affectations of upper class Royalism. The writing remains evocative, ironic, with a tangible meloncholy and despair that makes one want to live life fuller than they had been. He might have gained much by having a hard one crease his private channel, but then we will never know; all I know is that Eliot's poems still get the heat to the meat.

  3. Mr. Mantis, I am aware that Ezra Pound would return in time to continue to bedevil Doctor Strange. He impersonated Doctor Strange during Strange's brief retirement, but was soon vanquished. His friend T.S. Eliot discovered the Book of Cagliostro, and battled Strange in 18th-Century Paris. He then accompanied Strange and Sise-Neg to the dawn of time. After suffering a mental breakdown, Pound was placed in Doctor Strange's care, but later escaped, then later transformed the dead Lord Phyffe into Azrael, angel of death, and dispatched him against Strange. He sent the Eliot in the form of Man-Thing to kill Strange, and assembled thirteen people for human sacrifice to the Chaos Demon. Pound was defeated by Strange, Jennifer Kale, Man-Thing and Delmore Schwartz. He attacked Strange, and escaped into the 1940s, but was manipulated by Dormammu. So what’s the big deal?

  4. The way I heard it was that Pound was getting nailed in the stairwell of a 24 hour Biscuit joint by the person of the Checkered Demon, who caught the verbose poet claiming credit for double Dutch bus poesification. Pound, though , was hard of hearing and thought he caught the phrase "Pizza Asphalt", which gave him a hankering to stay in Italy for awhile.

  5. Yes, well, it’s worth mentioning that when Pound wrote his Pisan Cantos, he was a member of an alien race known as the Baluurians, of the planet Baluur in the Negative Zone (in Sector 56-D, as charted by Reed Richards). He ruled the Baluurians as their monarch ruthlessly until he was rejected by The Little Review and rose against Maxwell Bodenheim. Pound was locked up in a special containment suit and set adrift in outer space in the Negative Zone until he figured out the intricacies of the Financial Credit system. When he broke loose he sighted Reed Richards, who had been trapped in the Negative Zone advising the Hoover Administration and followed him and Triton back to Earth. He fought with the Sandman and the Roosevelt Cabinet until he was defeated and imprisoned in adamantium and sunk into the Atlantic Ocean. Pound was later freed from his adamantium prison, and battled the Inhumans for the Bollingen Prize in an attempt to get Hugh Selwyn Mauberley a position at the Federal Reserve.

    Pound later made his first alliance with Annihilus, another conqueror living in the same faculty housing as John Berryman. He utilized the Super-Adaptoid in an attempt to regain his wife Nyglar, who summoned the Thing and the Avengers to a poetry seminar deep within Anne Sexton’s tool shed…

  6. I like the one when Thor hunkers down over a draught of warm FoamGruel when all of a sudden Giant Man says something nice about the poems of Basil Bunting. Thor hammered that fool in the OrgoneGroanSector , after which Captain America's shield smacked him right in the kisser.


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